Cyclone Idai batters Zimbabwe, at least 24 people dead

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At least 24 people have been killed and dozens are missing in parts of eastern Zimbabwe after the country was hit by tropical cyclone Idai which lashed neighbouring Mozambique and Malawi, the government said.

Two of the victims were students who died when a boulder hit their school, causing the wall of the dining room to collapse on top of them, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said.

Authorities were forced to close Beira worldwide airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm.

"Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged".

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi said the damage is "very worrisome" and said the flooding made it hard for aircraft to land and carry out rescue operations, according to Mozambique's state radio.

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Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland.

Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and four houses were destroyed.

The low-lying city of Beira is a gateway for imports to southeast Africa, and has a population of 500,000, sitting at the mouth of the Pungwe River.

"Because of the cyclone, the (theatre) no longer has conditions for patients to be operated on", Cebola said to Radio Moçambique.

Authorities in Mozambique said heavy rains before the cyclone struck had already claimed the lives of 66 people, and displaced a further 17,000.

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The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had warned that the storm could pack winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour (118 miles per hour). In 2015, Cyclone Chedza killed 140, and in 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline left 350 dead and 650,000 homeless across southern Africa.

They had also affected neighbouring Malawi, where 56 people died and almost a million others were affected, the government said.

There have been emergency relief camps opened, with President Peter Mutharika declaring a national emergency.

"Given this tragic loss of life, the general devastation registered so far and the continuing torrential rains, His Excellency, the President, Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, has declared a State of Disaster in respect of the affected areas or areas likely to be affected by Cyclone Idai in terms of Subsection (1) of Section 27 of the Civil Protection Act (Chapter 10:06)", he said.

The country is prone to extreme weather events.

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